EU member states can refuse arrest warrants issued by Poland

German and Polish policemen arrest a thief after a pursuit during Polish and German Police cross-border exercises in Zgorzelec, Poland, 28 January 2015. [EPA]

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) yesterday (25 July) authorised EU members to refuse arrest warrants issued by Poland if they doubt defendants will get a fair trial there.

The judgement provides the legal framework for countries to reject Polish arrest and extradition warrants and is not binding.

The decision states legal authorities in the country which receives the warrant must “postpone” executing it if they believe there is a “real risk of breach…of fundamental” human rights.

However, judgement on the fairness of other EU legal systems is for each member state to decide on an individual basis when it receives a European arrest warrant, clarified the Luxembourg-based court.

The High Court of Ireland brought the case to the ECJ after Poland issued an arrest warrant for a Polish national living in Ireland on charges of drug trafficking.

The ECJ decision allows the Irish government to reject the European extradition warrant if they have “objective, reliable, specific and properly updated” evidence of a “real” risk of a defendant being denied their right to a fair trial due to “deficiencies in the Polish system of justice”.

The move follows a series of controversial judicial reforms in Poland.

The Commission launched the Article 7 procedure against Warsaw last December after concluding that the Polish judiciary reforms pose a systematic threat to the country’s rule of law. Warsaw could be stripped of its voting rights in the 28-nation bloc under the Article 7 procedure of the EU treaty – covering systemic threats to the rule of law – which had never been previously used against an EU state.

Brussels triggers unprecedented action against Poland

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced with a 04:13am tweet that the EU executive had activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, due to “a risk of serious breach of of the rule of law”.

Supreme Court judges, who hold their position until retirement, saw their pension age lowered from 70 to 65, a decision described by critics as an attempt to give the government more judicial control.

The European Commission criticised the reforms in Poland on 20 December as representing “a clear risk” of a “serious” breach of the rule of law by handing the government control over legal matters.

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